Rethinking the Meaning of Work

edison

Why do we work?

Dictionary definitions of work include “to be employed, especially as a means of earning one’s livelihood,” “labor,” and “toil.” Understood as such, work seems like an unpleasant necessity in order to live.

It’s said that Europeans work in order to have leisure, and Americans work in order to have wealth.

Is that really what work is—some soul-sapping necessary drudgery that hopefully leaves us enough freedom to carve out some time and money to enjoy some remaining portion of life?

If that’s the nature of work, no wonder most people dislike their jobs.

Yet people go to work and obviously get a lot of great things done, as a result. I’m sure there are plenty of people who accept and defend the status quo for that reason.

But not me.

Ever since I was a child, I had this romantic view of work. I loved reading stories of discoverers, inventors, and entrepreneurs (a word I knew when I was ten). Work was discovering electricity, inventing the lightbulb, and creating Disneyland!

We need to see work for what it is at it’s noblest form: it is creating and using knowledge to change the world for the better.

Even in my least enjoyable early career jobs, I would find that thing—that one problem I discovered and worked to invent a new process or solution for, or even that new business opportunity—and as long as I could get just enough of that in my life, it outweighed the sense of toil I experienced from the rest of the job.

For a while, that is. Then I couldn’t stand the toil any longer and tried to find a better, and better, place to work in order to be free to discover, invent, and be entrepreneurial.

My love for work led me to be labeled—with the pejorative “job hopper.” As if my craving to do important things was some sort of lack of ability to commit! The reality is that I simply refused to give up my idealism.

Maybe I was a proto-Millennial (I was born in 1971). After all, when it comes down to it, much of Millennials’ demands for their work is for it to have meaning.

Actually, I’m being a bit facetious because I don’t think Millennials are all that different than earlier generations, except mainly because of the computer and Internet revolution, they have witnessed world-changing technologies occur in the span of a few years, and that makes their dreams and hopes for meaningful work be less crazy than for earlier generations.

Millennials, like myself, actually believe in the credo: Think Different.

It’s time to throw out the old definitions of work. We need to see work for what it is at it’s purest and noblest form: it is creating and using knowledge to change the world for the better. Then we need to demand of ourselves, and of any employer: Let us do our work, because it matters.

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